Why You Need Base Layers

When you’re choosing clothes for bird watching it’s easy to think of the obvious such as a waterproof and hiking boots but something that’s often overlooked is the importance of base layers.

Couple Hiking

A good base layer is essential for maintaining the right body temperature and keeping you dry from perspiration. Many novice bird watchers make the mistake of choosing to wear cotton next to their skin under the belief that as a natural material it is breathable.

Although cotton is fine to wear on its own on a hot day when worn under other clothes it will soak up moisture leaving you feeling damp, cold and uncomfortable. If you’ve ever felt damp coming through your waterproof jacket, the chances are it’s not your jacket to blame but your cotton base layer.

The process of drawing moisture away from the skin is known as wicking. Base layers won’t stop you sweating but if they have good wicking properties they will move the perspiration away from your body where it evaporates keeping you warm and dry.

Base layers made of synthetic materials such as polyester or a polyester blend, or a natural material such as merino wool or bamboo are the most suitable. Base layers must be tight fitting to trap air next to the skin and insulate your body so buy a base layer in the size you would usually wear as they are designed to be snug.

Polyester base layers are lightweight and quick drying and can keep you warm to up to -10° as long as you have suitable top layers. Some synthetic base layers are made from fabrics such as IsoTherm designed for heat retention while others include built in SPF.

Polyester fabrics are machine washable and relatively cheap but may not be antibacterial and can stain easily.

Base layers made from merino wool will help regulate body temperature and tiny air pockets draw excess heat away from the body preventing you from overheating. They can keep you warm in temperatures of up to -20° but are also suitable for warmer conditions. Merino wool base layers will retain their thermal properties even when wet.

Merino wool base layers will feel softer against your skin and they have natural antibacterial properties. However, they will be more expensive than synthetic fabric base layers and may shrink if washed in the machine.

Bamboo is a relatively new material for base layers but it has a number of advantages over synthetic and even merino wool. Bamboo base layers are soft and have natural antibacterial properties, they tend to fray less and are quick drying and can fit better and are cheaper than merino wool.

Make sure you clean your base layers after each use. Do not use harsh detergents and leave them to dry naturally to maintain any protective coatings. Ideally hand wash them and don’t use fabric softeners which can reduce their wicking properties.

And remember even great base layers they will not provide all your warmth. Their job is to regulate your body temperature while your top layers will keep you properly insulated.

Take a look at our range of base layers for men and women from leading brands including Berghaus, Icebreaker, The North Face and Helly Hansen available to buy online.

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